The soft match-up following the crushing Champions League elimination helped Juventus stick the landing and prevented the doom and gloom from taking over in full fashion. They did just enough to squeak by a lowly but combative opponent, but the recipe for disaster was there.

The Bianconeri took care of business in the recent matchdays, but the Scudetto contenders are not relenting, so it remains a pipe dream. As suspected, having three teams vying for it works against them. Inter have slowed down, but Napoli and especially Milan have not. As for the Champions League race, the threat of Atalanta going on a run is always present. Still, the five-point cushion, should La Dea prevail in their makeup game, might be comfortable enough to stay relatively at ease. The schedule is not super challenging, and the Old Lady has had remarkable consistency domestically. Moreover, the main rivals seem very much focused on Europa League, which is commendable.

The Paulo Dybala controversy burst over the break after bubbling over for a long time. The breakup seemed inevitable given all the rumors and the bad blood that had been mounting on each side. It is a shame to lose a top player for nothing. Both parties have strong points in their favor, the management probably more than the player. La Joya has not been dependable in the past two seasons. He has been productive when healthy, but availability is a skill too. The squad needed him to be the main fulcrum following the abrupt departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and he was not. There would not have been any doubt about the lofty wages had he lived up to the task.

Considering the sums circulating these days, any monetary request seems legitimate, though. His entourage will eventually be successful and find somebody who fulfills it. However, there is sound logic behind a relatively low or short proposal. The current front office is only partially at fault, although they surely did not appease the situation with questionable remarks. But when this kind of situation reaches its final months, a positive resolution is unplausible. The matter should have been nipped in the bud a couple of years ago. It seems that the Bianconeri had already started to lose faith in him a while back as they dangled him in the transfer market.

Dybala joining Inter or another Serie A side would be part of the game. That would not remove the disappointment, considering that he has always shown major attachment to the Old Lady and that he will not lack opportunities to transfer abroad. He is free to do whatever he wants, but his choice will be interesting and telling.

The timing was the worst part of the whole ordeal. There is still a decent chunk of the campaign left and a lot on the line. Ripping the band-aid off can provide clarity and relief, but things could have easily been handled differently, and there was no need to make it official now. It would have spared the awkwardness in the locker room and to the coaching staff.

The infirmary emptied out during the break, which is good news but also a double-edged sword, as there are more chances to make mistakes in the selection. Massimiliano Allegri stated that Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro and Paulo Dybala would start, and we will see whether it will hold true. Denis Zakaria has good chances as well, as Arthur headed back home late. 4-2-3-1 would return if either Federico Bernardeschi or Alvaro Morata starts over Adrien Rabiot. An offensive all-in would send quite the message.

Expected Lineup

Juventus (4-4-2): Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Zakaria, Locatelli, Rabiot; Dybala, Vlahovic.  

Absences: Chiesa (ACL tear), McKennie (foot fracture), Kaio Jorge (patellar tendon tear)

Nobody would be too stunned if Inter were in this position after a relatively inconsistent campaign considering all the human capital they lost last summer. Instead, it comes after they showed dominance during the Winter and then fell into a prolonged slump that has yet to end and may cost them the title. There is still time, but they are currently in the worst shape out of the top three teams in the standings.

The fact that Juventus could actually leapfrog the Nerazzurri, at least on paper is befuddling. Multiple reasons slowed them down in the last two months, where they have stunningly won just one match out of seven Serie A matches, basically on the heels of an eight-game winning streak.

The last-gasp loss against Milan in the Derby likely dinged their self-esteem, as they were about to reach juggernaut status beforehand. The two hard-fought Champions League tilts against Liverpool took a toll. They had a couple more challenging fixtures, for instance on Napoli’s turf, where they tied despite a subpar outing, or versus Sassuolo at home, which is apparently a Titan against top-tier clubs. The stumbles against Genoa, Torino, and Fiorentina, all draws, were tougher to digest.

Marcelo Brozovic was absent in the most recent two, which makes all the difference. They do not have another midfielder that can pull the strings and shield the defense as smartly. They tend to look like a series of soloists without a proper conductor when he is not there. They have a vast array of weapons, but very few of their players actually create for the others. Hakan Calhanoglu is the leader in such department, but mostly through his sharp set-pieces. Nicolò Barella has been run into the ground with heavy minutes, and his performances have taken a nosedive.

Their attack has mostly sputtered during the recent disappointing run of results. Lautaro Martinez can look like a star on his best day, but he is not the most regular scorer yet. He does not contribute a lot when he is not hitting the net. Edin Dzeko has had a renaissance on that front, but he is not a marksman that can bag 20/25 goals per season, nor is he super clinical. Alexis Sanchez had some excellent outings, but he is hard to trust game in and game out. Joaquin Correa has mostly been absent due to injury and has yet to recapture his best form. His spark would surely be beneficiary.

The defense has not been a major problem, but it has not been airtight as at the peak of its power. The issues of Samir Handanovic are well-documented at this point, although the major blunders have been less frequent than early on. While Milan Skriniar and Alessandro Bastoni have been stout, Stefan De Vrij had multiple uncharacteristic lapses.

There have not been any tactical developments since the last time the two sides faced each other in the rough Supercoppa in January. And that is maybe the Achilles’ heel of Simone Inzaghi, who is more of a peacetime CEO. He is slow in making adjustments when his plans go pear-shaped and very methodical. Denzel Dumfries has continued his rise, and he is now a true menace in the final third. They signed Robin Gosens in the last window, and that will be a scary combo once he gets going, but he has not unseated the steady Ivan Perisic following a pair of major injuries.

Considering Allegri’s style, and Inzaghi is not far off in terms of pragmatism, it will probably be a deadlock, although recent evidence suggests Inter can be beaten with an aggressive approach and by pinning them in their half. It will likely be a game of inches, and, if counterattacks turn into the main weapon, the Nerazzurri are more well-versed in that facet of the game.

Brozovic and De Vrij should both be available following calf problems, but it looks like the midfielder has better chances to start than the defender. Danilo D’Ambrosio or Andrea Ranocchia would get the nod if that was the case. Matteo Darmian and Dumfries are neck-and-neck to play on the right flank.

Expected Lineup

Inter (3-5-2): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Bastoni; Darmian, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Lautaro Martinez, Dzeko.